By Bola Bolawole
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Two governors from the southern part of the country talked tough last week – and that was good for our democracy and for the madness fast enveloping every part of the country, spreading rapidly westward and southward like wild fire in the harmattan from its “home” in the North-east. Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers State gave the North a piece of his mind on the raging controversy over who collects Value Added Tax (VAT) – the Federal, State or even Local Government – while Ondo State’s Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu responded sternly to irascible, self-opinionated, and terror-propagating Miyetti Allah in its opposition and open threats over the state’s anti-open grazing law. Neither Wike nor Akeredolu pulled punches in their well-measured, even if pungent, reaction. They acted in the interest of their electors; very much unlike in the past when southern Nigeria governors generally were reticent and conciliatory on critical issues of life and death affecting their long-suffering people.
Wike had gone to court to ask for a declaratory judgement that the Rivers State Government, and not the Federal Government, is the rightful authority empowered by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to collect VAT within its jurisdiction. In his landmark judgment delivered on Monday, August 9, 2021, Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, declared that the Rivers State Government (and not the Federal Government or its agent, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS) has the powers to collect VAT in Rivers State. FIRS went to court to ask for a stay of execution but the judge dismissed its plea on Monday, September 6, saying granting it will negate the principle of equity. Whereas the Court of Appeal on Friday, September 10 ordered the maintenance of the status quo, machinery has already been set in motion by Rivers and Lagos states to enforce the law which their respective state House of Assembly has passed on the collection of VAT.
In directing VAT payers to continue to pay their taxes unto it (before the Court of Appeal order), FIRS acted recklessly; its statements and actions were an arrogant display of power. It is impunity of the highest order and needless flexing of muscles. In a country under law, the rule of law, not rule of the thumb, must bear rule. The FIRS “instruction” to tax payers was an unnecessary incitement to citizens to disobey the law, which can lead to a breakdown of law and order and enthrone anarchy.
Lagos, more than Rivers, is the state that holds the short end of the stick as far as VAT’s unjust sharing formula is concerned; thus, Lagos has given notice that it, too, will “domesticate” the Port Harcourt judgment and end decades of injustice it has suffered with loss of revenue counted in billions of Naira. Comrade Femi Falana, SAN, thus, is justified in his advocacy that even under the present skewed 1999 Constitution; serious state governors still have a lot of leg room to manoeuvre in their dealings with the Federal Government. Falana has argued ad nauseam that there are so many provisions of the law that the states can take advantage of to “restructure” the country and claim a large measure of autonomy and control over their resources and space from a domineering and oppressive Centre. The VAT judgment – if allowed to stand – vindicates him in this respect.
Now, other states should follow the Rivers and Lagos example; even those states that think they are at the receiving end of the judgment should buckle up and pull themselves up by the bootstraps rather than beg, like some state governors were reported to have done, or sulk like a traditional ruler that snubbed Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu last week. Such arrant nonsense! What is demanded is for everyone to go to work and improve their IGR. The same North that pussyfoots on the presidency rotating to the South; that deliberately offloads its almajiris and other dangerous elements on the South; that corners all the important political offices and juicy posts; that sites every conceivable project and infrastructure within its domain; that victimises, oppresses, insults and rubbishes the South – the same North now begs the same South to continue to subsidise it and its shenanigans!
But the truth is that such “subsidies” have not helped the North. Kaduna State’s Gov. Nasir el-Rufai came to that realization recently when he said all the favours extended to the North in appointments, admission policies, federal character-this and federal character-that have made the North lazier, more indolent, and more backward – and that is the bitter truth! They are promoted over and above their competencies; and their superiors and betters from the South serve under them. Less competent Northerners are bosses to their better colleagues from the South in the Ministries, Departments and agencies of government. The system gets poisoned in that the cheated Southerners get disgruntled, are frustrated, and can neither give their best nor mesh with their so-called Northern colleagues. The master-servant relationship – the monkey dey work, baboon dey chop system – breeds disaffection and works against zeal and patriotism in southern Nigerians while fostering in the favoured North a false sense of entitlement, security, and prosperity.
Firstly in its own interest and secondly in the interest of all of us, the North must be weaned off what Wike called its “laziness”. Like Wike said, the North must now go to work. It cannot continue to have its cake and eat it. The days of living off the sweat of others are numbered. Said Wike: “In June (2021) N15.1billion was collected as taxes in Rivers State but N4.7 billion was given to Rivers State; N46.4 billion was collected from Lagos but Lagos was given N9.3billion. Kano generated N2.8billion and was given N2.8billion. Have you seen the injustice in this country? I will not be governor for ever; it is not about me but about the system. Let the right thing be done!” Not done yet, Wike fired directly from the hips: “You cannot destroy beer in your state in the name of Sharia; yet, share from VAT on beer from other states. It is hypocrisy. Free money has promoted laziness. If you want to be governor, grow your state’s economy. You can’t contribute humongous numbers during elections that can’t translate to tax earnings for your state. If they can vote, they should be able to work and pay tax” Wike must have spoken deep from the inner recesses of his soul. He spoke directly to the issues with no holds barred.
Akeredolu, speaking through Dr. Doyin Odebowale, his Senior Special Assistant, Special Duties and Strategy, also gave Miyetti Allah a spanking, describing it as an association of people “frustrated to the point of taking to banditry and other forms of criminality to fight poverty” and which makes “too much weather of a cultural practice associated with an ethnic group and who expects all other ethnic groups to accept such backwardness and adjust, accordingly, or be ready to face the ceaseless onslaught of the denizens of the forests…who must rape, rob, maim, kill and despoil in response to climate change.
“They claim to be above the law of any State in the Federation. They warn of the imminent breach of peace and the promotion of pervasive anarchy if they are not allowed to ravage the sweat and toil of (our) long-suffering farmers… They thank the Federal Government and ask its functionaries and the National Assembly to ensure that they continue to kill, maim, rape and dispossess their victims… with the ultimate aim of dispossessing the indigenous owners of the land.
“Any ethnic group truly indigenous to the geo-political space known as Nigeria should not be desperate to appropriate other people’s land…Modernity imposes certain obligations on any social group which claims membership of the human race. It is arrogant, and this is being mild, for any assemblage of criminal upstarts to seek to issue orders to the elected representatives of the people on the best way possible to administer their states. It is indulgence taken too far…
“No cultural practice permits criminality. Banditry, rape and armed robbery should not be the attributes of a people…Our contemporary history is replete with events of brazen treachery as recompense for the warmth and hospitality extended to the undeserving (and) various communities live with painful memories and indelible scars. We refuse to become slaves in our land. We detest treachery and unbridled arrogance. We are not prepared to cede any part of our ancestral heritage… We will defend our land.
“Ondo State has a law which prohibits open grazing. The Government has a responsibility to implement the law… The people of Ondo are hospitable. They will, however, be unable to tolerate and condone invasion of their land. No bandit will operate in Ondo State under any dubious guise”.
I said it before and it bears repeating here that the South is stirring. The scale is falling off our eyes and the dumb has found his voice. The North, by its unending and unrelenting audacious acts and impunity, is radicalizing the South. Those who have ears; let them hear or soon, the dumb will fight!
Published in “Treasures” column (back page), New Telegraph newspaper, Wednesday, 15 September, 2021.
Tremor as Wike, Akeredolu spit fire…
By Bola Bolawole